ELK COUNTY--The true heat of summer has not yet gripped Elk County, but all too soon, we will be trying to cool down and dread turning on the oven to cook dinner because we just don't want to heat up the house anymore. Doesn't a cool slice of lemon meringue pie sound just about perfect on one of those hot and humid days? Well, if you are willing to put in a little bit of time and have a digital thermometer, this recipe is a great way to make a pie without heating up your oven too much. If you have a cooking butane torch, you don't need to heat it up at all.
First off, let's avoid heating up the oven by making a pie shell. There are several premade pie shells in the baking aisle made from graham cracker crumbs or, for this recipe, crushed shortbread that work great for this almost oven-free recipe. But while you are in the baking aisle, skip those boxes of premade lemon pudding and pie filling. If you want the real taste, it's not that hard to make it yourself, and without all those chemical additives and colors in the boxes.
Start out with fresh lemons. You will need between 2-4 for this recipe, depending on size. You are after the juice and the zest for this recipe. First off, take those lemons out of the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature. You will get more juice out of them more easily with them not so cold. Squeeze them on your juicer until you have 1/2 cup of fresh juice. Run the juice through a strainer to make sure no seeds. Then zest the washed skins of the lemons until you get about a tablespoon of zest using a zester or a fine grater. Set both aside.
While cooking is about artistry and improvisation, baking is more of a science and a little bit of chemistry, and that's where the digital thermometer comes in. Certain chemical reactions can occur with your food without added artificial chemicals that are in your everyday box mixes. This recipe calls for precise timing and temperature points to make the magic happen, but even a novice can make a great pie if you take it slow and easy. A digital scale for the dry ingredients helps too.
You've got the premade shell. So set that aside until you are done with the filling. For the pie filling and topping itself, you will need:
2 cups sugar, divided
4 large eggs, separated, whites and yolks in separate dishes
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 packed tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons butter, cubed, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Digital thermometer, a hand butane torch, or an oven set to 400°F (if using the over do not turn on until you begin making the meringue)
-Place 140 grams on the digital scale or (1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons) of the sugar in a medium bowl, along with the egg yolk and cornstarch. Whisk until very smooth and thick, and let come to room temperature near your stovetop.
-Combine the water, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and another 140 grams (1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons) sugar in a medium saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and cook, whisking frequently, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is very steamy, forms small bubbles around the edges of the pan, and registers 160°F, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the lemon juice and lemon zest, then remove from the heat.
-While constantly whisking, slowly ladle about one-third of the sugar mixture into the egg mixture to temper the yolks. (This step is essential to make your filling thick, but not cook the egg proteins too quickly) Whisk this egg mixture back into the saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Cook, constantly whisking, until beginning to thicken and bubble, 3 to 5 minutes. Continue to cook until the mixture begins to turn translucent and registers 200°F, 1 to 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in the butter, a few cubes at a time, until smooth. Pour into the pie shell. Let cool completely before making the meringue, usually 2-3 hours.
You need to construct a Double Bolier at this point to make the meringue in the Swiss way that helps keep it shelf-stable and set better if you have a double boiler, great! Get it out and ready for use. For the rest of us, just get a medium-sized pot and a heatproof metal or glass mixing bowl. Bring an inch or two of water to a simmer; a boil is not necessary here because you’re going for gentle heat, and then place the bowl with your ingredients inside over top. You want it to fit snugly without touching the water.
-Whisk together the egg whites, cream of tartar, remaining 125 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth and foamy, about 30 seconds. Place the stand mixer bowl on top of the hot water, tilting the bowl as needed, so the egg mixture is sitting just above the water. Let the mixture heat, constantly whisking, until it reaches 165°F, 5 to 10 minutes. This is an essential step and must be completed, so your meringue is stable.
-Once the temperature is reached, return the bowl to the stand mixer. Fit the mixture with the whisk attachment, then beat on high speed until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to medium and continue to beat until stiff peaks form, 3 to 5 minutes more.
-Top the pie with the meringue, making sure to spread the meringue all of the ways to the edges of the crust. Use a spoon or your finger to create swirls and waves in the meringue. Use a culinary or propane gas torch to brown the top, or place in your preheated oven at 400°F until the top is golden brown. After cooling to room temperature, place in the refrigerator and serve the next day as your new favorite summertime dessert.